Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a formal rescinding of Obama-era guidelines for Title IX action on college campuses last week.
Title IX is a federal law that addresses sexual discrimination on colleges and universities. All schools are required to follow it if they receive any funding from the federal government. DeVos claims the current guidelines are biased against the accused and fail to guarantee them due process under the law.
The guideline DeVos is repealing is the “Dear Colleague” letter written by the Obama administration in 2011. She claims it has gone too far and gives colleges too much power in sexual assault cases.
DeVos released an interim question-and-answer memo detailing how schools and universities should respond to cases until the new guidelines are implemented.
Ole Miss Title IX Coordinator Honey Ussery said the changes and the memo will not change much for the current Title IX policies and processes on campus.
“It does not prohibit the policies we have in place; therefore, our department will continue its practices,” she said.
The memo states colleges must have a clear standard of proof in cases.
One such case was reported this week on Ole Miss’ campus. Monday night, the University Police Department received a report of sexual assault at Brown Hall. This is the fourth sexual assault reported this year, after eight reported assaults in 2015.
Some universities, such as the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of California, have already issued statements saying they plan to keep their current sexual assault policies, regardless of the new guidelines.
University administration has not released a statement on the issue, but Ussery said she does not agree with DeVos’ claim that the accused are treated unfairly.
“The university’s policies provide equitable treatment to both parties using the previous guidance,” she said. “Each student has a right to an adviser throughout the process. Documents are provided to each party at the same time. Both sides can present witnesses and have an opportunity to submit questions at the hearing.”
Ussery said the department will continue to offer counseling and academic accommodations to both parties involved.
Representatives of student organization Rebels Against Sexual Assault said the group does not stand with DeVos’ changes.
“(The changes) are horrible and ridiculously slanted against the survivors for no reason,” Jake Thrasher, president of RASA, said. “When Betsy DeVos was listening to people about Title IX, she listened to groups who are called men’s rights, but it’s not about men’s rights.”
Thrasher said rescinding the “Dear Colleague” letter is taking a step back.
“Before we had the 2011 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, universities would extend the investigation period for so long that survivors would basically give up,” he said. “The ‘Dear Colleague’ letter restricted the amount of time universities could take to resolve the cases.”
Thrasher also said the changes would allow universities to spend more time on cases, potentially sweeping things under the rug.
Other students have voiced similar concerns. Some said they feel the changes were a step in the wrong direction.
“Changes in Title IX should not have taken place. Studies have shown that less than 8 percent of the claims of assault are false, which means that over 92 percent of people that build the courage to come forth are being honest,” junior business major Dominic Jackson said. “When you make it harder to convict those that do these hideous crimes, people will no longer express their hurt and, in turn, leave individuals, both male and female, with lifelong scars.”
However, some said they think the changes would protect innocent people who have been accused of sexual assault. Candice Jackson, head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and a sexual assault survivor herself, said she believes some investigations have gone “terribly awry.”
The department currently has almost 500 open sexual assault cases. Each takes around 700 days to complete.
The Department of Education said it plans to continue to speak to “survivors, campus administrators, parents, students and experts” about final changes to the law.